Dr. Iz Jakubowski

UPDATE: Protecting Yourself & Your Dog From Ticks (Toronto 2020) *

By Dogs, Pet Parasites, Ticks

March is National Tick Awareness Month!

It’s not the beginning of tick season per se (there is no official “season” where ticks are concerned), but rather the time of year Canadian veterinarians (& especially veterinarians in southern Ontario) revisit the subject of ticks knowing that people & their pets will be spending more time outdoors as Spring approaches. Our complete primer on ticks follows, but here’s a summary of key points that are top of mind.

Tick Take-home Points for 2020

Toronto is considered a risk area for Lyme disease.

Check out Public Health’s map of risk areas in Ontario below. It’s not the kind of map any city wants to be on, but the deer tick has been found in sufficient numbers in parts of Toronto, to put us on it. Comparing the maps for 2016 through 2019, you can see that ticks continue to expand their feeding grounds. They’re now in Hamilton, York region, Kenora & near Orillia where they weren’t established previously. Ticks expand their territories at a rate of about 46 km/year. And where there’s a black-legged (deer) tick, there’s the potential for that tick to carry the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease. (Click on the 2019 map to see a larger version of it.)

Interested in how Toronto is faring where ticks are concerned? Click here for more information about the city’s tick surveillance program: Backlegged tick surveillance – City of Toronto. This website includes a link to the map shown below as well as data on the number of ticks found in different parts of Toronto. In 2018, about 35% of backlegged ticks in the Rouge Valley tested positive for Borellia burgdorferi (the causative agent of Lyme disease). 

By the way, you’re invited to be a citizen scientist & help Dr. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph with his tick surveillance efforts by submitting information about ticks you find on your pet here:  There’s lots of other useful information at this website as well, including some of the latest research on the subject.

Note: It’s still the case that nation- & province-wide, about 1 in 5 deer ticks carry Borrelia burgdorferi. But in certain areas where these ticks have been established for a number of years, as many as 40% of them carry Borrelia. (The longer ticks are established in an area, the higher the level of disease in those tick populations. Gananoque, Kenora District, & Wainfleet Bog have some of the highest level of disease in their tick populations.)

As more information becomes available about the numbers of ticks carrying Borrelia in our area, we’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, you can assume that at least 20% of our deer ticks are carrying the bacterium.

Tick activity is temperature-driven, not seasonal.

Any day it’s 4ºC or higher (or to be on the safe side, let’s say above freezing [0 ºC]), ticks come out of hiding in search of a meal. We’ve been monitoring weather patterns for a number of years now, & it’s become clear that while the weather is unpredictable, you can count on ticks being active through the winter. Take this winter, for example. One day, the temperature went from a balmy 11.8ºC to a frigid -6.9ºC within a week in mid-January. Almost 90% of January saw temperatures above 0 ºC and almost 20% of the month saw temperatures above 4 ºC. The calendar below shows that there was potential for plenty of tick activity — in the dead of winter.

Given that Toronto is on the map as a risk area for Lyme disease, & winter months here continue to see temperatures that support tick activity, we recommend year-round tick protection to ensure your dog is covered during those warm spells that are becoming a norm through the winter.

Tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease are preventable!

Tick-borne diseases are serious, but they’re also entirely preventable if you take the appropriate precautions. We recommend preventive medication for your dog, appropriate clothing and bug spray for you, staying on trails and keeping your dog on a leash, doing tick checks after you’ve been outdoors and removing ticks from your pet as soon as you find one (even if he/she is on preventive medication). It can take as little as 24 hours for the black-legged tick to transmit the bacterium that causes Lyme disease if it’s carrying it, so the sooner you remove any ticks, the better. If you find a tick on your dog, we can run a quick blood test to check for exposure to disease.

We’ve run the numbers, and it’s less expensive to prevent transmission of Lyme disease for a full year than it is to treat it. And because we worry about Lyme nephritis (a rare but typically fatal complication of Lyme disease that affects kidneys) and we still don’t know enough about subclinical & long-term effects of the disease, your best bet is to take appropriate steps to avoid disease transmission.

For year-round tick prevention (as well as coverage for other parasites for the months of the year they’re of greatest concern), we recommend a monthly chewable in the NexGard® family of preventives:

Note: At some point, we’ll be looking at whether it’s also appropriate to introduce the Lyme vaccine in our area. We’re not seeing a need just yet. 

Need reminders to give your pet flea & tick preventives? There’s an app for that! Instructions for downloading the app: Flea and Tick app Instruction Sheet_EN

Like to do your own research? Here are some reliable places to start.

Read on to further understand the risk ticks present, & to learn how to identify the ticks of greatest concern & take steps to reduce the risk of acquiring tick-borne diseases so you & your dog can continue to enjoy the outdoors in good health.


A Brief Primer on Ticks

What exactly is a tick & why are ticks a concern?

Ticks are external parasites that belong to the same family as spiders. They have several life stages: The adults lay eggs, eggs hatch into larvae, larvae molt into nymphs, & nymphs mature into adults that go on to lay more eggs. Adult ticks have 8 legs, 2 body parts, a flat body (when their bellies aren’t full of a blood meal), & a hard outer skeleton (hard to squish but don’t even try because you might release any disease they may carry). Both adult ticks and nymphs are vectors for (meaning they can carry) certain diseases that can be transmitted to you and your dog when they attach and feed. Not all adults and nymphs carry disease, but some do and their numbers are increasing.

Understanding tick behavior

Unlike fleas & mosquitoes, ticks can’t jump or fly onto their hosts. Instead, they “quest” when they’re hungry for a blood meal. That is, they cling to vegetation (e.g., a leaf or a tall piece of grass) with their back legs & reach out with their front ones so they can grab on & climb aboard any host that passes by (a bird, rodent, deer, dog, or a person, for example). They can sense a potential host through body heat & vibrations. Click: Tick questing  & you’ll see a good example of a tick questing for a meal ticket.

A tick "questing"

A tick “questing”

Once on board, some ticks wander around looking for the best seat in the house (for example, on or near an ear where skin is thin). Others will settle in wherever they land. They’re pretty hungry at this point & literally do a face plant when they feed, embedding their heads into skin & sucking up blood through a feeding tube for several days. Once they’ve had their fill, they fall off their host & move on to their next life stage. You’d think we hosts would notice, but ticks are really small (hard to see until they’re engorged with a blood meal) & some species release a kind of local anesthetic when they feed so their hosts don’t notice they’re there.

Tick feeding with head embedded into skin

Tick feeding with head embedded into skin

It’s only while adult ticks or nymphs are feeding that they can pick up a disease carried by one host & pass it on to another.

Which ticks are a concern?

Species of ticks found in Canada that will feed on dogs or people are listed below. The ones of greatest concern are the black-legged (deer) tick & American dog tick. (Brown dog ticks are uncommon, & Lone Star tick populations have remained low. They’re a greater concern if you’re spending time in parts of the U.S.) The incidence of most tick-borne diseases is still pretty low in Canada. But black-legged ticks that transmit Lyme disease in particular are growing in numbers, including in the GTA.

Travelling to the United States with your dog? Tick-borne diseases & heartworm disease are a much bigger issue there than in Canada, & we strongly recommend that you take preventive measures while you’re there. To learn about the parasites of concern in the U.S., see the maps provided by the Companion Animal Parasite Council at

How can I tell ticks apart?

Tick scrutumThe easiest way is by looking at the shield on their backs called the scutum. The scutum covers the entire back of males but only the upper back of females. It is solid black in black-legged ticks, more “ornate” with some white in American dog ticks, & displays a white spot in female Lone Star ticks (white spots around the margins in males). (Brown dog ticks don’t have a distinct scutum.) That said, ticks are small, so even identifying them by their scutum is challenging. Click here for a chart that can help you identify the four ticks of concern in Canada: Identifying Adult Ticks  

When is tick prevention recommended?

At any point that you’re seeing an area on the ground without snow cover and the temperature is 4°C or higher (let’s say above freezing to be safe), ticks will be out questing for a meal. In our part of Ontario, people & their pets need protection from March through November at a minimum. But given the consistent warm spells we’re seeing during our winter months, we recommend year-round protection. Adult ticks are active in the spring & fall. Nymphs are active during the summer. Nymphs pose the greater risk to people because they’re around at a time when people are wearing shorts & tee-shirts & have more skin exposed, & nymphs are so tiny (1-2 mm in diameter!) they’re hard to spot.

Tick Life cycle

Tick Life cycle

What’s the best way to remove a tick?

tick image3There’s a nifty 2-pronged tool for the job (pictured left) that we can give you.

1) Pick the large or small one depending on the size of the tick.

2) Engage the tick between the prongs of the tool approaching it from the side.

3) Gently lift & turn (clockwise or counterclockwise) until the tick releases its hold.

4) Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands.

Here’s a video showing how it’s done using the tick tool shown above:

Alternatively, grasp the tick close to the skin with tweezers and gently but firmly lift upward. The goal is to remove the tick with its mouth parts intact. (If you leave anything behind it’ll cause a reaction under the skin.) DO NOT put oils, Vaseline, or other concoctions on the tick (we worry that it’ll cause the tick to regurgitate into its host – exactly what we don’t want!).

How worried do I need to be about Lyme disease?

On average, about 1 in 5 black-legged ticks in Ontario carry the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) that causes Lyme disease (less in some areas, more in others). (In areas such as Kingston & Gananoque, up to 40% of ticks are carrying the bacterium.) The vast majority of dogs that are exposed to Borrelia don’t get sick. In fact, only about 5% of dogs develop symptoms of Lyme disease: a lameness that shifts from one leg to another, fever, lethargy, & a loss of appetite. And they can be treated successfully with antibiotics. But left untreated, about 1% of those that get sick develop Lyme nephritis (an immune-mediated disease of the kidneys that’s often fatal).

People can also develop serious complications of Lyme disease if it’s not treated. So if you develop flu-like symptoms (aches, pains, headaches) or a bulls-eye-like or other rash where you may have been bitten by a tick, please see your family physician.

While Lyme disease is serious, it’s also entirely preventable if you take the appropriate precautions.

Dr. Iz Jakubowski

Royal York Animal Hospital  

4222 Dundas Street West Etobicoke, Ontario M8X 1Y6

*416-231-9293  *

Heatstroke is a Pet Emergency – how to recognize it and what to do

By Dogs

Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of leaving their pet in a hot car or taking their dog for a run on a sweltering summer day.  However, heatstroke is not limited to those situations by a long shot.

Consider this story:Baker

It was a lovely early summer day. The temperature was hovering around 70 F (21 C) and Baker was heading out to walk to the park with her owner. Baker is an active 5 year old female/spayed Labrador Retriever. Like most Labs, Baker is ball crazy and when they reached the park a game of fetch the ball ensued. But on this day, after chasing & fetching the ball several times , Baker seemed very reluctant to return the ball to her owner and they decided to return home. Her owner tried to get the ball from her but Baker insisted on carrying the ball in her mouth, all the way home, which was a fairly long way.

When they got home, Baker. appeared to be panting excessively. She went into the backyard where she collapsed and could not get up.
Baker was rushed to Royal York Animal Hospital.  By the time she got to the hospital, Baker could not stand. Her abdomen was very sore and her body temperature was 105.4 F (40.8C) Normal body temperature for a dog is 100 – 102 F (37.7 – 38.8 C)

What do you think was wrong with Baker?

Care needs to be taken that your dog does not over exert themselves when it is warm......and occasionally take the ball away to help them cool down

Care needs to be taken that your dog does not over exert themselves when it is warm……and occasionally take the ball away to help them cool down

If you guessed Heat Stroke you would be correct but this is not be most pet owner’s first thought and they would not recognize this as an ermergency.

Baker was admittted to the hospital and the Royal York Veterinary Team performed emergency life saving procedures.  Radiographs (xrays) were taken as Baker’s abdomen was so sore  & painful to touch.  The radiographs showed that her stomach and intestines were full of air. This would have been caused from extra swallowing from carrying the ball home in her mouth. Due to the fact that dogs perspire through their tongues the ball had made it difficult for Baker to get a good air supply when she was already over-heated.

Baker’s body temperature had then started to climb dangerously high. As her body temperature climbed, essentially the body organs start to “bake”.

Dogs that are very active can over-heat in milder temperatures especially if they are continually holding objects in their mouths

Dogs that are very active can over-heat in milder temperatures especially if they are continually holding objects in their mouths

Luckily Baker did not sustain permanent organ damage as her owner was quick to act and Royal York Animal Hospital was quick to cool Baker’s temperature with cold water towels, icepacks, IV fluids and a medication called Sulcrate to help with any secondary hemmorhagic enteritis. (internal bleeding).

The excessive gas in the stomach would have predisposed Baker to  Stomach Bloat (a secondary emergency and often fatal condition)  but this was averted in time and BAKER MADE A FULL RECOVERY.

This is a particular cautionary tale as the weather was only warm but not hot BUT Baker is an energetic, ball chasing dog.

Extra care also needs to be taken if your dog is a “flat faced” breed (Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers etc) because their airways are already often compromised and they can become overcome with the heat very quickly.Dogs that are very active can over-heat in milder temperatures especially if they are continually holding objects in their mouths

Bottom line: Know your dog and pay attention: If its too hot for you to go for a long or brisk walk or play in the park then it is definitely too hot for your dog and could be fatal. Also, if you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke don’t delay — cover your dog with a cold, wet towel and transport immediately to your nearest Veterinary Hospital.

Rosie chillin' on the deck  on a summer day.....water and A/C close by.

Rosie chillin’ on the deck on a summer day…..water and A/C close by.

Sadly, we see quite a few of this types of emergencies during the summer and all don’t end quite as happily.

Dr. John Allen

Royal York Animal Hospital  416-231-9293

4222 Dundas St West, Etobicoke, Ontario

Dr. Lilla Yan

Ear Infections: Itchy, painful and sometimes re-occurring (especially in the summer)

By Dogs


Ears infections are, unfortunately, one of the most common medical concerns we see at Royal York Animal Hospital.  It can be very frustrating for a  family to watch their pet scratch their ears or shake their head in pain. Some pets are so bothered by an ear infection, that they scratch their ears day and night to the point of bleeding.

Dog Ear Infections



How would I know if my pet has an ear infection?

How to Prevent your Pets from Ear Infections

You may see your pet scratching at one (or both) ears excessively; or you may notice an odour or discharge from the ears; sometimes you would only notice your pet shaking their head excessively.

What happens when you take your pet to the Veterinarian for a possible ear infection?

Dr. Luisa Alvarez uses an otoscope to look deep into Jasmine's ear canals.

Dr. Luisa Alvarez uses an otoscope to look deep into Jasmine’s ear canals.

When you bring your pet to Royal York Animal Hospital for a possible ear infection, the Veterinarian does an otoscopic exam (looks into the ear canals with an instrument called an otoscope).




What is the Veterinarian looking for?

1. Is there discharge in the ear(s)?   It’s very common that a pet owner notices scratching at one ear but often there is an infection in the other ear also.

2. Is the ear canal swollen or red?  If so we may need to prescribe medication to reduce the swelling to open up the ear canal, so that ear medication can actually flow down the ear canal and treat the infection properly.

3. Is there any signs of a foreign material or a growth in the ear, that maybe is the cause of the ear infection in the first place?

The next step would be to do ear swab cytology. This means we use a long Q-tip looking stick called a swab  and take a sample of the debris in the ear canal.  The swab is stained with a special dye and examined under the microscope.  How to Clean Dogs EarsFrom this, we can tell what type of infection your pet has.

For example, it could be a yeast or a bacterial infection which are treated with different medications.

Or maybe it could be ear mites that have caused all of the itching?

Based on what type of infection it is, we would prescribe medications accordingly.


How do I apply the medications or ear cleaners ?

We have an excellent video on our website that shows  how to clean a pet’s ears: How to Clean Your Dogs Ears (Hecktor and Heidi)

    • We usually recommend having your pet rechecked after about two weeks of treatment (depending on the type of ear infection).
    • Pets often are often much more comfortable within a few days of treatment BUT it’s very important for them to be rechecked.

Why does the Veterinarian need to Recheck your pet’s ears?

1.  Pets’ ear canals are very deep.  Sometimes the outside looks good, but when we look down their ear canal with an otoscope we realize the deeper end of the ear canal is still infected. Left untreated, it will likely come back as a more difficult infection to get rid of. Not to mention the discomfort your pet will be in with a chronic ear infection.

2.  Sometimes as treatment goes on, the type of infection changes, and we may need to adjust their medications accordingly.


Why do some dogs get recurrent ear infections?

For pets with recurrent ear infections, there usually is an underlying cause.

1. Allergies are a common and make the ear canal moist, itchy and red, which is a perfect environment for bugs to grow

2. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is another possibility.

Just like in people, allergies are a complicated disease to treat, and there’s rarely a ‘cure’.

Dogs that have recurrent ear infections may need a long-term maintenance treatment, such as a special solution instilled in their ears every day, to prevent ear infections.   If the cause of recurrent ear infections is a growth inside the ear canal, the pet usually need the growth surgically removed to prevent recurrent ear infections.

How do I know if the treatment is working?

    • The most important thing to remember when using an ear medication/cleaner is: you need to put enough in!
    • A pet’s ear canal is quite deep, and a common reason for treatment failure is not putting in enough medication.  When this happens the deeper end of the ear canal is not getting treated.
    • When your Pet is prescribed ear medication or ear cleaner, you should squeeze into the ear until you can see the liquid come up the ear canal.  This ensures that you’ve applied enough.  Next, close their ear flap and massage the base of the ear to ensure the liquid reaches the deeper end of the canal  ( or until you hear a ‘squishy’ sound). Pets often immediately want to shake their heads to shake out the excess so be prepared by either being outside or in a place where you are ok with them doing that!

As usual, the entire Veterinary Medical Care Team at Royal York Animal Hospital, is always available to answer your questions!

Dr. Lilla Yan



Stress Free Veterinary Visits With Your Dog

By Dogs, Stress free Veterinary visits for dogs, Veterinary Exams

My name is Kim and I have been an Animal Health Technician (AHT) at Royal York Animal Hospital since 2001.  I am also very involved and passionate about dog training. Nine years ago I started flyball with my now 10 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, “Jasmine” and then  “Zip” my 7 year old Whippet Mix.  Jasmine and I also dabbled in agility and now that has turned into an obsession for me with my youngest dog, “Switch” a Border Collie mix.  Also at my  home and usually on the couch is Casey, a 12 year old Lab mix breed rescue.  I have had many struggles with my current and past dogs and it has fueled my desire to learn as much as I can about dog training and behaviour as well as the fact that I have found that dog training is just plain fun!



I wanted to write a blog about the stresses of bringing your dog to the veterinary hospital.  This may seem such an ordinary thing on the one hand but it can be stressful for more  dogs than you think.  As a technician, I see it every single day I am at work!  While some dogs come racing through the front door and are excited to say hello to everyone, there are almost as many that are a little less enthusiastic and some are even fearful. Not every dog thinks that coming to the vets is a fun experience.

The good news is that there are many things you can do to prevent or decrease stressful veterinary visits for both you and your dog.  Ideally you can start  preparing when your dog is a puppy but it is never too late.



Tips to prepare your dog for a less stressful to the veterinary hospital:

1. Come by the veterinary hospital for a “visit”

Just drop in to say hello when your dog doesn’t need to see the veterinarian.  Have you dog sit on the weigh scale for some favorite treats, have a visit with some of the hospital staff and then go on your way to the park.

2. Practice “physical examinations” at home

Have your dog sit quietly and then gently lift his ear flap, look in the mouth, pick up a paw, run your hands along the entire body and legs.  Use some tasty treats and make it a fun game.

3. Get them comfortable with crates/kennels

The reality is that most dogs at some point in their lives will have to be admitted to the hospital even if it is for a short period of time.  Their visits can be much less stressful if they are comfortable in a crate or kennel.  Having a dog that is relaxed and comfortable in a crate also makes housetraining much easier and keeps your pet safer when travelling in the car.  As a technician I can tell you how heartbreaking it is to see a really sick dog who must be hospitalized and needs to be in a hospital kennel for treatment but is so completely stressed out just from being in the kennel.  Conversely, dogs that are comfortable in kennels have a much easier time adapting to the added stress of hospitalization and treatment.

Train your dog to be comfortable in a crate.

4.  Desentitization

Desensitizing and reduce your dog’s fear of the vet.

Waiting room etiquette:



  • EVERY dog should be leashed while in the WAITING ROOM from the bouncy  puppy looking for friends to the experienced, award- winning obedience dog.   Often other people’s dogs are part of the stress factor for your own dog or vice versa.
  • A veterinary hospital is not the place to socialize  dogs.  Many pets are already stressed and as a result may be fearful & irritable.  Some are sick or injured.   Ideally we recommend a 4-6ft traditional leash and not retractable leashes which can become tangled around fingers and bodies causing harm or allowing your dog to approach others that may not be quite as interested in making friends.
  •  Please also be respectful of cats in carriers as an inquiring nose, no matter how friendly, can be terrifying to the carriers occupant.

In the exam room:

  • Once in the examination room allow your dog to sniff around and familiarize themselves with the room.
  • Stay as relaxed as you can yourself as dogs are experts at picking up on our moods and body language.  The more relaxed and upbeat you are  the less stressed your dog will be.
  • A bandana sprayed with Dog Appeasing Pheromone (D.A.P.) (ADAPTIL) can decrease anxiety in some pets.

I hope this article has been helpful and I hope to see you and your happy, relaxed dog at Royal York Animal Hospital soon!

For fun check out this link and take this quiz:

How fluent are you in dog-speak?




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